Are you missing your new releases? Me too! I truly miss the smell of popcorn, the emotion that films evoke in theaters, the ritual of picking your seat out and yes, the trailers of course. I do miss seeing a great film and discussing the overall impact with my girlfriend as we exit the theatre. Thankfully, movie making has only paused for a short time. Like the saying goes, there’s more to see below the surface. Although theatres are retreating to seclusion, productions have been in post since the pandemic announced itself.
The real beauty of great storytelling is that it never stops. Writers with impactful stories continue to write because they need to – much like a painter needs to paint. To restrain it would be sacrilegious and down-right cruel… so let’s not. Now I want you to consider how an actor might feel without the camera, without a script and without a director to say ‘Action!’ Equally cruel and frustrating as a murder wasp with a crush. However, there is hope in the form of networks releasing those new releases. If you build it they will… okay, you get the just of it.
It gives me great pleasure to tell you that actor, Konstantina Mantelos has a new release premiering on Sept. 1st at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival at 7 o ‘clock. Anything for Jackson is a horror film that revolves around an 8-month pregnant woman getting kidnapped by an elderly satanic worshipping pair that are bent on putting the spirit of their dead grandson into the body of an unborn child. So, get your popcorn ready and dust off that security blanket – in the event you need a buffer from the terrifying scenes that are sure to shake, rattle and roll.
Konstantina Mantelos makes her feature film debut in this horror film; however, she’s been prepared for this opportunity for quite some time. She studied theatre at Ryerson College and graduated with her diploma. She also met her BFF/fiancé (Douglas Gibbens) there – he was in the Film/Image Arts program and she was in the Theatre Actors program. She had worked on a few of his film projects and they clicked very well. After finishing college, they formed their own production company, Spinning Top Pictures – writing and producing short films.
Although this is Konstantina’s first feature film, she’s landed roles in various theatre productions, short films, a web-series and a MOW. With 14 acting credits, 2 writing credits and 2 producing credits, she’s been ready for this. I had the great privilege of a Zoom interview with this outstanding talented actress and we discussed her latest film, Anything for Jackson. It was written by Keith Cooper and directed by Justin Dyck. Konstantina Mantelos makes her home in Toronto and was a pure joy to interview.
“Are you still able to continue working on your own projects during the shutdown?”
“Yes, I’ve just completed my second draft of my first feature that I’ve been working on for a while. It was one of those opportunities where I now had the time to work on projects that we all put to the side that we’ll get to at a later time. This has been a passion project for me that I’ve been delving into for some time. It felt really good to finally write ‘Fade to black’ (laughter).”
“I had heard that you want to write stories that feature strong female characters – is that accurate?”
“Yes, I started writing roles that I wanted to play and the types of films I wanted to be in. As a new graduate, you’re not getting auditions for those roles you’ve always dreamed of. I’d like to move past the cliché of strong females and create more interesting females rather than the ‘one architype’ of badass girl. There are all kinds of women out there and I think it’s time we see them with all their flaws, complications, mistakes, hopes and dreams on camera.”
“You are starring in your first feature film Anything for Jackson, which premieres at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on Sept. 1st. Did you feel any added pressure going into it?”
“I certainly was a bit anxious as much as I was excited but I’d already had the privilege to have worked on many short films, web-series, television movies and some television shows – which had prepared me for walking into a role like this. Of course… I had a little anxiety working with the great Sheila McCarthy, Julian Richings, Yannick Bisson… I really felt like the underdog on this team (laughing) but everyone was so kind, so wonderful and so welcoming. I have so much respect for them after working on the film together. I went in anxious but it turned out to be a wonderful learning experience all around.”
“How did you prepare for this role?”
“The film starts with my character Shannon Becker – I’m 8 months pregnant and I am kidnapped by a pair of elderly Satanists that want to put the soul of their dead grandson into my unborn baby. Just an average day (laughing). One of the challenges was playing 8 mths. pregnant – I’d never been pregnant before, so I did some research. They had given me a fake belly that had weight to it, which was really wonderful. I think physically it was most challenging because for much of the film I’m chained to a bed. There was very little ability to move with a lot of frightening moments and attempts to escape while being in a constricted situation, which was something I had to adjust to.”
“Are you able to cry on camera?”
“(Laughing) The famous ‘can you cry?’, – there’s definitely a lot of tears in this film. I tell many of my friends that it’s not a party trick, I can’t just bring it out but when the scene calls for it and we’re in the moment, the tears come when they need to. When you’re fully invested and in the mindset of the character, working with amazing actors… you get consumed in the world of the story, then all the emotions come naturally.”
“Where was the film shot?”
“It was all shot in Barrie, Ontario. We had the great privilege of filming a large chunk of it in an old movie theatre that had been recently gutted because it had unfortunately shut down. They were able to build the main set – which was the bedroom of the grandson that they were trying to resurrect. We spent about a week and a half inside the theatre, which was wonderful because our director, Justin Dyck and Keith Cooper had both grown up in Barrie and both had gone to this movie theatre to see their favourite horror films when they were kids. There was this very homey, wonderful seclusion when we were shooting the film.”
“How long were you on set for the film?”
“We had an amazing 3-week shoot, which is incredibly short for a feature film. It was a tremendous endeavour and a true testament to the people at Vortex Pictures, who produced the film, as well as the director Justin Dyck. He has a lot of experience shooting MOW’s (Movie of the Week) out here and those tend to have compact 3-week shoots. I think that Justin and Vortex were able to collaborate to cram it into the 3-week schedule. With all the practical effects used in the film, it really was an amazing feat.”
“Were you a fan of horror films going into this project?”
“I actually am! Horror films are one of my favourite film genres and it almost felt like fate to get cast in this particular film, especially as my first big feature project. It was the sort of movie that I’d want to watch – so that felt particularly special.”
“What was the first film your production company had produced?”
“We had a wonderful opportunity arise through a competition called The Danny Elfman Project. Essentially, Danny had put out some of his music for free for filmmakers to use in their short films. We rose to the challenge and were inspired by the music to write the screenplay for it. It was my first official screenwriting experience, with the assistance of my fiancé Douglas Gibbens. We produced the film and we won the competition. We had the opportunity to premiere the film at the LA Film Festival. The film travelled to a few other festivals and after that I really got the bug. I found it empowering as an actor to be able to write your own stories. I had realized that it was the one element missing from my acting that I was very passionate about – with the need to explore my own stories.”
“I heard that you’ve been watching a lot of movies during the shutdown. At last count, you were on 145? What is that number now?”
“At last count, I believe I’m at 161.”
“What would you consider the biggest difference in moving up to feature films?”
“My answer might be a little roundabout… because what I found was, I was more surprised by at how similar the experience was. Having produced my own films and having worked on other young filmmakers’ short films; short films always tend to be passion projects and everyone really cares about being there, they’re wearing multiple hats… and they’re all excited about the project. Going into a feature film, I thought it might not be so intimate but what I found was, despite the scope of the film being so much bigger everyone had that same energy. It was Justin Dyck’s first time delving into a horror film, so he was very excited about that. All the actors were very jazzed about being there and getting to explore these interesting and unique characters. The crew were absolutely phenomenal and passionate about making the film as good as it could be and were so creative in lending their ideas – everyone was so open to everybody’s thoughts and suggestions.”
“Can you tell me where the film will be making its premiere?”
“It makes its premiere on Sept. 1 at 7 pm in Montreal at the Fantasia Film Festival. It will be an entirely digital event this year because of the Covid crisis. They’ve done a phenomenal job of switching over to the new platform. They’ll still be doing a talk-back after the film, so we’ll be able to chat… and everyone that purchases a ticket will be able to participate in the film premiere experience. Everyone seems to be rising to the occasion.”
“How much do you miss red carpet events and movie premieres?”
“Certainly, it’s a bit disappointing, especially with a horror movie and not being in the theatre and unable to hear the screams, the gasps and all the energy with the fan fare on the red carpet. It’s unfortunate… but on the other hand, with the system now, there are a lot of people that supported me throughout my career that will actually be able to attend and watch with me, where they would not be able to otherwise. In some ways, it’s a little more special than getting to dress up and go on the red carpet.”
“Do you play any musical instruments?”
“My dads going to hear this and have something to say about it (laughing), but I have dabbled in guitar for many many years… I am in no means on any kind of pro level. That hobby is just for me.”
“What’s your favourite sport to watch?”
“OOhh… umm I’ve never been a big sports person but my fiancé is a huge Maple Leaf’s fan… so we know the disappointment (laughing).”
“What’s your favourite food to indulge in?”
“I’m a big pasta person.”
“What kind of films do you hope to be involved with going forward?”
“Good question… just like the films that I want to make, I hope to be involved in films that will challenge me and give me something to work with, in terms of well- rounded characters that have a lot going on – with underlining elements I can explore. One of my dreams… is being involved in something on the same scope of Lord of the Rings. It’s my favourite set of films and in my opinion, there’s nothing out there that fell in place together so well as the LOTR series did – the amount of comradery that you hear about on set and the way it rejuvenated the film industry in New Zealand.”
“Do you know what productions might look like once you do return to the set?”
“ACTRA has been really wonderful in keeping us updated on the new standing Covid-safety guidelines for productions. A couple of productions have started up again and they’ve created some really interesting ways to navigate keeping distance on set, as well as keeping everything safe and sanitized. I know there are many productions that are exploring ways of isolating the entire production and actors when they come to set. There’s a lot going on in the industry to combat the issues we’re facing and they’re very eager to get back to work.”
“How comfortable are you in returning to work, knowing the guidelines they’ve put in place?”
“I feel that the guidelines/plans they’ve put out are very thorough and I’m very confident with the unions, as well as large production companies out there. I think they have a lot of respect for what’s going on and there’s no hastiness to return if it’s deemed unsafe to do so. If companies are following the guidelines that they’re putting out, then I would feel comfortable stepping back into it.”
“Have you had any opportunities to send out taped auditions?”
“It has actually happened throughout the last 6 mths and I’ve seen it picking up a little more. I also do a little voice work and I know of a lot of voice actors that are seeing quite a lot of work because the voice acting industry is able to navigate the pandemic a little easier than the ‘on-camera’ industry.”
“Are you the only actor in your family?”
“Actually yes – I come from a large Greek family. My family came here in the ‘50’s and with all the cousins and relatives, I’m the first to delve into the realm of acting. They’ve all been extremely supportive right from the beginning and with this premiere, I know my dad is sending the Fantasia link to every cousin/relative in the country to buy tickets.”
In closing, Konstantina has never been to Vancouver and was supposed to go out to a wedding this fall but it’s now been postponed because of the pandemic.
After the premiere of Anything for Jackson, the horror film will launch in late October, close to Halloween on Superchannel Fuse. How ghoulish is that?